ABC’s Chris Kenny dog broadcast breached rules, says media watchdog

Chris kenny australianThe ABC breached broadcasting standards when The Hamster Decides aired a satirical image of The Australian’s Chris Kenny having intercourse with a dog, the communications watchdog has ruled.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has vindicated Kenny’s aggressive pursuit of the public service broadcaster after The Chaser team first aired the item in September last year.

The broadcast was part of The Hamster Decides show and was a co-production with The Chaser’s production company Giant Dwarf. The episode featured a clip of Kenny criticising the ABC on Sky News before showing the doctored image and labelling him “Chris ‘dog fucker’ Kenny”.

Initially the ABC defended the broadcast. As well as complaining to the ACMA, Kenny took the ABC to court, resulting in an apology from MD Mark Scott and on air. Costs and some damages were also paid at the beginning of this month.

“Robust debate is a common feature of Australian political discourse and artistic expression, and the ABC Code provides considerable latitude to the ABC to broadcast challenging content that may offend some audiences some of the time,” said ACMA chairman, Chris Chapman.

“However, the ABC’s standard must, and does, create a line beyond which material cannot be broadcast if it is not justified by the editorial context. The ACMA reached this decision after careful consideration of the complaints, the ABC Code of Practice and the ABC’s and the program producer’s lengthy submissions. In this case, the ACMA considers that the material crossed that line.”

The ACMA investigation was into whether the broadcast broke the “arm and offence” section of the ABC’s code of practice. The code of practice is set down by the ABC board and overseen by the ACMA.

The harm and offence standards:

7.1 Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context.
7.2 Where content is likely to cause harm or offence, having regard to the context, make reasonable efforts to provide information about the nature of the content through the use of classification labels or other warnings or advice.
7.3 Ensure all domestic television programs – with the exception of news, current affairs and sporting events – are classified and scheduled for broadcast in accordance with the ABC’s Associated Standard on Television Program Classification.
7.4 If inadvertent or unexpected actions, audio or images in live content are likely to cause harm or offence, take appropriate steps to mitigate.
7.5 The reporting or depiction of violence, tragedy or trauma must be handled with extreme sensitivity. Avoid causing undue distress to victims, witnesses or bereaved relatives. Be sensitive to significant cultural practices when depicting or reporting on recently deceased persons.
7.6 Where there is editorial justification for content which may lead to dangerous imitation or exacerbate serious threats to individual or public health, safety or welfare, take appropriate steps to mitigate those risks, particularly by taking care with how content is expressed or presented.
7.7 Avoid the unjustified use of stereotypes or discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice.

So far this year the ACMA has reported on the results of investigations into 11 previous complaints regarding the ABC. In each previous case no breach was found.

The investigation also examined whether the ABC had incorrectly classified the show, but found no breach.

In an indication that the decision to find a breach was not a straightforward one, the report from the ACMA also sent a signal to the ABC Board that it needs to rewrite the code to make it simpler, saying it tended to “complicate and obscure rather than clarify” the issue. Chapman said: “‘As a consequence of the complexities associated with the construction of the ABC’s Code, the ACMA has suggested that the ABC Board reflect on whether its code is operating effectively and as intended in the context of dealing with harm and offence.”

An ABC spokesman said: “The ABC will review the ACMA report and its findings. The ABC has twice apologised to Mr Kenny and separate court proceedings have been settled.”


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